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Maine State Prison Guard Awarded $400,000 in Sex Discrimination Settlement

by Ashleigh N. Dye

A sex discrimination suit against filed by a female guard at the Maine State Prison against the state Department of Corrections (DOC) was settled for $400,000 in June 2022.

The guard, Autumn Dinsmore, filed the suit in federal court for the District of Maine in July 2021, alleging years of abuse from male coworkers and supervisors that ranged from unfair discipline to rude homophobic slurs like that from a fellow guard who told Dinsmore, after she rebuffed his advances because she is gay, “You’re too pretty to be a lesbian.”

The suit claims DOC fostered a hostile work environment reflecting an “institutional mindset” that women should not work as guards in the men’s prison. It was a belief so pervasive and reinforced that Dinsmore claims to have suffered sexual harassment on numerous occasions at the hands of not just male guards but supervisors, too.

Dinsmore’s career also came under threat, she said, resulting in discipline both unfair and unequal to what her male counterparts received for the same infractions, often resulting in two-day suspensions with no pay for an offense for which one of her male coworkers did not even get the slightest reprimand.

According to the suit, Dinsmore was approached in August 2017 by a prisoner who said he had “heard some stuff” about her. When she asked the prisoner what he had heard, he responded that a male guard told him Dinsmore was a “dyke,” adding that the guard said he had sex with other female guards but couldn’t “get with” Dinsmore because she is gay.

An investigation was launched into this allegation by Cpt. Joel Parsons, the same investigator who would later suspend and discipline Dinsmore multiple times. Parsons’ investigation resulted only in a “written reprimand” for the male guard, Dinsmore claimed, naming him in her suit.

Another named in the suit is former Sgt. Dale Tobey, who was Dinsmore’s supervisor at Bolduc Correctional Facility (BFC), where she transferred in September 2019 in hopes that she would not experience the same harassment there. Her suit claims that Tobey made several homophobic comments and slurs to and around Dinsmore. On several occasions, according to the suit, Tobey talked to male guards about sleeping with Dinsmore to “flip” her sexuality.

These egregious claims went all the way to the state Human Rights Commission, which determined in January 2021 that there was reasonable grounds to believe that Dinsmore suffered sexual harassment and discrimination on the basis of her sex. Yet still the abuse persisted, she alleged, leading to her suit.

The settlement agreement the parties then reached includes $235,000 for Dinsmore and $165,000 in costs and fees for her attorney, David G. Webbert of Johnson & Webbert, LLP in Augusta. See: Dinsmore v. Dep’t. of Corr., USDC (D. Me.), Case No. 1:21-cv-00194.

Additional source: WCSH

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Related legal case

Dinsmore v. Dep’t. of Corr.